Does Gaffin Have A Point In His Critique of Postmill? Not So Much

“Nothing has been more characteristic of current post-millennialism than its emphasis on the kingship of the ascended Christ; nothing fires the Postmil vision more than that reality. Yet it is just this reality that post-millennialism affectively compromises and, in part, even denies. Postmils especially will no doubt find this last statement startling, maybe even outrageous, so let me explain.

Nothing is more distinctive to the postmil vision than its expectation of promised “victory” for the church, a future “golden age,” before Christ’s return. That golden era is variously conceived; in its reconstructionist versions, for example, it is to be a period of global supremacy and control by Christians in every area of life. But all postmil constructions—past and present, and all of them marked (as postmil) in distinction from other eschatological viewpoints—have in common that the millennial “gold”/”victory” (1) is expected before Christ’s return and (2) up to the present time in the church’s history, apart from occasional anticipations, has remained entirely in the future.

Here, then, is where a problem—from the vantage point of New Testament teaching, a fundamental structural difficulty—begins to emerge. Emphasis on the golden era as being entirely future leaves the unmistakable impression that the church’s present (and past) is something other than golden and that, so far in its history, the church has been less than victorious. This impression is only reinforced when, typically in my experience, the anticipated glorious future is pictured just by contrasting it with what is alleged to be the churches presently dismal state (the angle of vision seldom seems to include much beyond the church scene in the United States!), usually with the added suggestion that those who do not embrace the postmil vision are “defeatists” and contribute at least to perpetuating the sad and unpromising status quo.

The New Testament, however, will not tolerate such a construction. If anything is basic (and I’m inclined to say, clear) in its eschatology, it is that the eschatological kingship of Christ begins already at his first coming culminating at his resurrection and ascension. “God has placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church” (Eph 1:22; cf. v. 20).

…In other terms, for the New Testament, the entire interadventual period, not just a closing episode, is the “golden age” of the church; that period and what transpires in it, as a whole, embodies the churches millennial “success” and ” victory.”

RICHARD B. GAFFIN, JR.| “Theonomy and Eschatology: Reflections On Postmillennialism” in William S. Barker and W. Robert Godfrey, ed. Theonomy: A Reformed Critique (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 202–03.

1.) It is true that Post-mills find Gaffin’s statement startling and outrageous, as well as humorous, but then we find most statements by Amillennialists to be startling, outrageous and strange. We find that to be the case because none of what Gaffin says represents our position. The above is a case of building a straw man and then proceeding to demolish what nobody believes.

2.) Gaffin affirms that Postmillennialism champions the Kingship of Christ but only does so while denying that Kingship at the same time. The problem with Gaffin’s observation here (and a problem, that Gaffin of all people should not make) is that Postmillennialism understands the hermeneutical dynamic in Scripture of the “already/now/not yet.” Postmills emphasize, as Gaffin rightly acknowledges the “kingship of the ascended Christ. Further, Gaffin is correct that “nothing fires the Postmil vision more than that reality.” This truth represents the reality that Christ has indeed already taken up His office of King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The Postmill understands that Christ has been inaugurated as the King of the Cosmos. This is the “already” and “now” of our eschatology. Unlike the Amillennialist Gaffin, the Postmil believes that this Kingship is not merely a spiritual Kingship but the Postmil believes that this Kingship is a reign that rules over every area of life.

However, the Postmil also understands that with the passage of time the already and now inaugurated Kingship of Jesus Christ is going from increasing consummation unto  increasing consummation which each passing day. We understand, unlike the Amills, that the Kingship of Jesus Christ while already present has a “not yet” quality that takes time to demonstrate. Has Gaffin forgot the Kingdom parables?

  “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

And that,

 “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds[b] of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

Matthew 13

Gaffin desires to indict the Postmillennialists because we understand this principle and he apparently does not?

3.) So, Gaffin is just in error when he says that for the Postmil the Kingship of Christ is entirely future. It is because we believe in the Present Kingship of Jesus Christ that we expect the future of that already present Kingship to be more and more glorious. However, for the Amillennialists, like Gaffin, the Kingship of Christ is a pretend/fantasy Kingship. The Kingship of Christ is exercised only in the Church realm. We can only see and can only expect to ever see the Kingship of Christ with spiritual eyes that see spiritual realities. In just such a manner the Amillennialist can retire from contending for the crown rights of Jesus Christ in every area of life, satisfying himself with the ability of his “spiritual” eyes to see “spiritual” realities that more often than not are not really there, except so as to satisfy the militant A-millennialists retreatist, defeatest, pietistic, and quietistic cowardice.

3.) So, the Postmil, contra Gaffin’s assertion is quite content in seeing the Kingdom present and growing now, while retaining the expectation that the full flowering of the already present Kingdom will go from fuller flowering unto fuller flowering. We Postmils, of course rejoice in the truth that even now;

“God has placed all things under his (Christ’s) feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church” (Eph 1:22; cf. v. 20).

And because we believe that is true the Postmils operate from that truth. Because Eph. 1:22 is true we work from the confidence of that truth unto seeing that truth progressively demonstrate its already current truthfulness. Because we believe the King currently reigns we lean into life living as if the King reigns. It is why we keep praying, apparently unlike the Amills, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done.” Or has Gaffin dispensationalized that prayer since, in his world, the King and the Kingdom has already come and therefore we need not pray that any longer. Is Gaffin suggesting that that prayer was for them and not for us?

4.) As a Postmil, I have no problem affirming with Richard that;

the New Testament, the entire interadventual period, not just a closing episode, is the “golden age” of the church; that period and what transpires in it, as a whole, embodies the churches millennial “success” and ” victory.”

Postmils affirm that we are going from victory unto victory and success unto success. It’s just that Postmils don’t spiritualize the Kingdom so that it is always invisible and non-corporeal all of the time everywhere. Postmils, understand, unlike Amils that since the King now reigns there is work to be done in seeing that every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father.

Postmils see that happening in time and space (consider B. B. Warfield’s Eschatological Universalism) as the Holy Spirit makes it so the knowledge of the Lord covers the earth as the waters cover the sea whereas Amils like Gaffin, treasuring defeat and surrender, see this only happening with the cataclysmic event that is the return of Jesus Christ.

As a codicil here I will offer that there are many Amillennialists who call themselves “Optimistic Amillennialists.” I call these chaps my friends even if I can’t figure out how they get there. It is the militant Amillennialists who never met a Postmil they didn’t want to pulverize and mock that find my hackles getting raised.


Author: jetbrane

I am a Pastor of a small Church in Mid-Michigan who delights in my family, my congregation and my calling. I am postmillennial in my eschatology. Paedo-Calvinist Covenantal in my Christianity Reformed in my Soteriology Presuppositional in my apologetics Familialist in my family theology Agrarian in my regional community social order belief Christianity creates culture and so Christendom in my national social order belief Mythic-Poetic / Grammatical Historical in my Hermeneutic Pre-modern, Medieval, & Feudal before Enlightenment, modernity, & postmodern Reconstructionist / Theonomic in my Worldview One part paleo-conservative / one part micro Libertarian in my politics Systematic and Biblical theology need one another but Systematics has pride of place Some of my favorite authors, Augustine, Turretin, Calvin, Tolkien, Chesterton, Nock, Tozer, Dabney, Bavinck, Wodehouse, Rushdoony, Bahnsen, Schaeffer, C. Van Til, H. Van Til, G. H. Clark, C. Dawson, H. Berman, R. Nash, C. G. Singer, R. Kipling, G. North, J. Edwards, S. Foote, F. Hayek, O. Guiness, J. Witte, M. Rothbard, Clyde Wilson, Mencken, Lasch, Postman, Gatto, T. Boston, Thomas Brooks, Terry Brooks, C. Hodge, J. Calhoun, Llyod-Jones, T. Sowell, A. McClaren, M. Muggeridge, C. F. H. Henry, F. Swarz, M. Henry, G. Marten, P. Schaff, T. S. Elliott, K. Van Hoozer, K. Gentry, etc. My passion is to write in such a way that the Lord Christ might be pleased. It is my hope that people will be challenged to reconsider what are considered the givens of the current culture. Your biggest help to me dear reader will be to often remind me that God is Sovereign and that all that is, is because it pleases him.

12 thoughts on “Does Gaffin Have A Point In His Critique of Postmill? Not So Much”

  1. Gaffin may have misrepresented your post-mil position, but I think you’ve likewise misrepresented the a-mil position. Most of my closest associates at church are post-mil, but I remain convinced I’m in good company when I demur.

    “The Jews did and do dream still of an earthly kingdom, at the coming of their Messiah; the Lord dasheth those dreams, and tells them “his kingdom is not of this world,” and that he “went away to prepare a place for them, that where he is they might be,” (John xiv. 2, 3.) and “be with him to see his glory.” (John xvii. 23, 24.) The place shall be the third heaven.” p. 195.

    Thomas Shepard, ‘The Sound Believer’

    1. All kinds of people are wrong about eschatology. In this case we see that;

      1.) Gaffin is wrong
      2.) Thomas Shepherd is wrong
      3.) Ron is wrong

      The fact that Christ said “My Kingdom is not of this world” does not mean what you think it means.

      “‘My kingdom is not of [ek: out from] this world,'” is a statement about the source — not the nature — of His reign, as the epexegetical ending of the verse makes obvious: ‘My kingdom is not from here [enteuthen].’ The teaching is not that Christ’s kingdom is wholly otherworldly, but rather that it originates with God Himself (not any power or authority found in creation).”

      Dr. Greg Bahnsen
      God & Politics — pg. 27

      B. F. Wescott speaking of John 18:36 could comment,

      “Yet He did claim a sovereignty, a sovereignty of which the spring and the source was not of earth but of heaven. My Kingdom is not of this world (means it) does not derive its origin or its support from earthly sources.”

      The Gospel According To John — pg. 260

      John 18:36 along with Matthew 22:15-22 are two of the passages that are often put forth as defeaters for the comprehensive sovereignty of the Lord Jesus over this world. Bahnsen clearly shows here, quite in agreement with the Greek scholar B. F. Westcott, that God’s Kingdom, as it manifests itself in this world, is energized by a source outside this world. This is important to emphasize because many people read John 18:36 as proof that the Kingdom of Jesus does not and should not express itself in this world. Often this verse is appealed to in order to prove that God’s Kingdom is only “spiritual” and as such Christians shouldn’t be concerned about what are perceived as “non-spiritual” realms. Support for such thinking, if there is any, must come from passages other than John 18:36.

      1. I’d be a little more respectful as regards Thomas Shepard. But I’m sure you’ll tread a little more carefully in weighing the words of the risen Christ in Rev. 2:8-11 to the church of Smyrna. He calls them to expect and endure suffering and tribulation: not to a half-cocked frontal assault.

        It’s interesting to me that you call a-mils cowards and retreatists. In fact, I believe (as you do) that we’re called to boldly confront the evil in society. The difference is that I don’t expect the results to be an increasing conversion and acceptance until Christ’s Second Coming.

      2. Let Thomas Shepherd be a little more respectful of Athanasius who owned a eschatology of victory;

        “Since the Savior came to dwell in our midst, not only does idolatry no longer increase, but it is getting less and gradually ceasing to be. Similarly, not only does the wisdom of the Greeks no longer make any progress, but that which used to be is disappearing. And demons, so far from continuing to impose on people by their deceits and oracle-givings and sorceries, are routed by the sign of the cross if they so much as try. On the other hand, while idolatry and everything else that opposes the faith of Christ is daily dwindling and weakening and falling, the Savior’s teaching is increasing everywhere! Worship, then, the Savior “Who is above all” and mighty, even God the Word, and condemn those who are being defeated and made to disappear by Him. When the sun has come, darkness prevails no longer; any of it that may be left anywhere is driven away. So also, now that the Divine epiphany of the Word of God has taken place, the darkness of idols prevails no more, and all parts of the world in every direction are enlightened by His teaching.”

        St. Athanasius
        On the Incarnation

        As far as the Revelation of passage no Postmill ever denied that in the context of going from victory unto victory there will be trials and persecutions. The text is irrelevant in the work of overthrowing the postmill worldview.

        And you’re right … the difference between you and I is that I believe that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. I do not believe that the Gospel is the power of God unto defeat.

        I am most glad that you are in the fight. I suppose it is something to be in a foxhole with someone who will fight even if they think that in the end they will lose the battle.

  2. “George Barna, Josh McDowell and others have statistics stating that 85% of teens raised in evangelical churches in America stop attending church in their late teens and early 20’s. We are talking primarily about 16-22 year-olds who have grown up in the homes of professing believers in Jesus Christ and have spent vast amounts of time attending Sunday School, Awana, Youth Group and Adult Worship Services in evangelical, even fundamental, churches. These are professing Christian teens who have stopped attending any local gathering that we would view as theologically orthodox.

    And so the ‘experts’ scratch their heads and point fingers at everything and everyone from lousy parenting, doctrinal weakness to hypocritical pulpits. The problem is that kids and young adults who have grown up in conservative churches under parents that would be described as exemplary are leaving at the same rate.”

    For 45 years I have watched Protestantism in all its various forms crumble and self-destruct and have seen its effect on culture as it has retreated from confronting the secular vision for the world. Rather it has bought into that vision. Instead of opposing it, it thinks to baptize it. And in 30 years of involvement in apologetic discussions, much of it with college age men, both within and without the church and why they want no part of it they say the reason is that there is nothing there for them. Church, according to young male evangelicals, is for women. And men in skirts. What is there in our modern day, Evangelical churches that inspire and motivate young men? What is the vision of the future that one might lay hold of to motivate and inspire; that compels one to give themselves over to that vision. The vision of the majority church is focused on one single future event of unknown date that is predicated either on an idiotic and fantastic eschatology that turn Rodenberry and Lucas green with envy or a dull, monotonous, depressing trudge toward the consummation with folks who make Eeyore look like Tigger.

    What is left? Except for evangelism, which is understood as keeping others out of hell, the Christian life is far too often defined by its prohibitive aspects; by what it doesn’t do. All hope is deferred until one is either dead, or the rapture comes. Young men see Christianity as a big negative being little more than all the things you shouldn’t want, can’t have, and can’t do. Kids are shoveled off to a public school where those things which one ought not do are seen done by other kids and become things that one doesn’t get to do. And why wouldn’t they think that way? What is the Christian alternative? Well, it’s hanging on in quiet desperation for the end whether that be death or the second coming. Slap the kick me sign on your back. What “Man” wants to play for a loser.

    But what if this world was viewed like the Hebrew nation looked at Canaan? A land that has been given to them by their God and King with the command to conquer it and own it for Him? Not with guns and ammunition but with weapons far more formidable. A command accompanied by the promise of assured victory with the culmination being the coronation of the King and not a last-minute rescue of the desperate. What if young Christian men were given a vision and trained to be warriors for their God intent on conquering and owning this world for Christ? What if they were trained by fathers that believed that the church cannot fail to take this world for Christ? What if they were trained to stand without compromise and never back down whatever the cost. Stand therefore with truth, righteousness, wielding the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. The weapon that is mighty by God for the destruction of fortresses. Yeah if. If only. But this is an age of the domesticated male.

    “No single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: Mine!

    When the principles that run against your deepest convictions begin to win the day, then the battle is your calling, and peace has become sin. You must at the price of dearest peace lay your convictions bare before friend and enemy with all the fire of your faith.” ~ Kuyper

    Will the victory come in my day? No it isn’t going to happen. But so what? No war is won without losses. But the battle has to start somewhere. I wasn’t told to win; I was told to fight.
Where there is no vision the people perish. Young men are vacating the premises and why wouldn’t they? No one wants to play for a loser. And the modern church in America, pessimistic, culturally irrelevant, and compromised is exactly that. Wallowing in an effeminate theology of defeat it is absolutely irrelevant to everything but the televangelist’s pocketbook and the Republican party that plays it for the fool it is at election time.

    But golly we’re respectful after all.

    Go on, hit me with your best shot. Again! Again! Again!Of course young men are leaving the organized church. What vision are they given that would make them want to stay?

  3. Because of God’s curse, man lives in the midst of death with no escape. Man goes in a circle, a vicious circle. He has made progress, but his progress consists only in that he runs his miserable circle at a faster pace.
    Ron VanOverloop The Hope of Every Believer Regarding His Future Earthly Life

    …nowhere in the New Testament is there a ray of hope that the church of Christ will again come to power and dominion.
    Herman Bavinck The Last Things

    Christ died for us in order to rescue us from the present evil age. These verses show what our focus, motivation, and hope should be in this present age. [ ] for this world will progressively harden its heart against the Gospel and plunge itself in destruction.
    Hal Lindsey, Road to Holocaust

    Defection and apostasy, among other things, will characterize the entire period of church history
    Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology

    ….the world [is] filled with sin and getting worse, a hopeless situation beyond repair and impossible to salvage is before us. …. the hope of the believer, and for this I am profoundly grateful, is not on any kingdom in this sorry world.
    Herman Hanko The Illusory Hope

    Golly how utterly inspiring. Where do I enlist?

    1. Gloom
      Agony on me
      Deep dark depression
      Excessive misery
      If it weren’t for bad luck
      I’d have no luck at all
      And agony on me

      Amillennialism Theme Song

      1. I’ve heard leveled at amillenialists charges of defeatism and cowardice so often that I’d ask all to consider the character of the hardest fighting general officer in the Confederacy:

        “Lee has been paraphrased as saying that D.H. Hill had such a queer temperament he could never tell what to expect from him.” [It} annoyed the sanguine Lee, who complained that Hill “croaked.” p. 149. One charge, “croaking”, does ring true, but it cannot be demonstrated that Hill’s gloomily realistic appraisals of the South’s military plight had demoralized his command. The evidence is all to the contrary.” p. 228.

        Hal Bridges, ‘Lee’s Maverick General: Daniel Harvey Hill’

    2. Enlist behind the prophet Isaiah. He was promised no better, but said “Here am I, send me.” That proved his motives were not mercenary, but that, counting the cost he went ahead anyway to the only victory and salvation that are promised: victory over and salvation from self.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *